Last post, I argued in favor of taking a larger view of family. The main point I was hoping to make was that our chances of living a meaningful life are greatly diminished if we have no family, and that to find out who we are, the way we think of family needs to return to what we call today an extended family.
Yesterday, Mike Flynn of the clan of Curnan, son of Aedh Abraidh, 8th Christian king of Connacht, conceptually doubled down: it is not enough, perhaps, to know ourselves as part of an extended family of the living – perhaps we also need to see ourselves as part of the extended family of our ancestors.
Immediate benefits of considering ourselves as parts of a family that exists now and across time include: humility – I’m just one in a long line of people whose sacrifices (and foibles!) got me to where I am now; a sense of mortality – everybody dies! Get over yourself; and duty – I received much from my ancestors, both good and bad, and I would do well to pass on the good and avoid the bad.
Americans characteristically seem to be constitutionally disinclined to think in terms of extended families. Some people came to America with the express intent to leave it all behind. The Czech immigrants on mother’s side of the family tried to become Americans as soon as that was possible. My grandfather, like many immigrant parents, forbade his kids to speak his native language once they started going to school. My father deflected any curiosity we kids had about our ancestors from his side. Essentially, for both my parents, they had fled from their homelands, from their parents who had, in turn, fled from theirs.
The upside is that clan murders went out fashion (more or less*) with the Hatfields and McCoys, a couple families descended from very clannish Scottish and maybe Irish sheepherders. It is perhaps hard for us to imagine living in a time where there were no police, where all law enforcement was a family matter. But I think we can agree that it is better to live in a place and time where murder is a less routine way of settling disputes.
For me, an extreme non-joiner and characteristically detached from the social life around me (it’s a character flaw), I find my primary sense of belonging to be the Church. That’s my clan, if I have one. My more natural clans have, in the American fashion, dissolved around me, with family members scattered across two continents, few being less than a few hundred miles apart, with many being thousands of miles apart. Even in the modern age of light-speed communication, those distances have their numbing effect of family affections. This is in addition to (or perhaps along side) the lack of any context within which to resolve hurts – if you don’t care about the family as a whole, what would motivate you to resolve wrongs with your siblings? Why not just leave? That’s the path taken, pretty much.
I am trying to maintain good relationships with my children, hoping to build a bit of an extended family with them. I tell them that this whole ‘kick them out of the nest’ thing is not how we do things – that our home is their home as long as they are trying to contribute to the world; I remind them that their mother and I would make good cheap babysitters if they ever have children. Our four surviving children are, so far, the best of friends, which brings tears of joy to my eyes. Maybe we can start something here. Maybe love and care can grow.
Finally, Twitter has brought word of the latest brouhahas emanating from the synod, merely confirming my desire to stay away from it. There cannot possibly be a point to a layman concerning himself with this, especially when the bishops don’t seem to fully appreciate that every comma and adverb they use will get the full vivisection treatment by the jackal press and their fluttering remoras (Take a few metaphors, set blender on ‘frappe’). Let the dust settle, preferably for a decade or 2, unless it’s your job to do otherwise.
* Do we count mafias? They at least have the trappings of clans. But they also suffer under nearly universal disapproval.